Portfolio of Cheylon K. Woods

Hello from Alabama!!!!

Sorry for the delay in updates…I have been very busy here! Here’s an update on what I have been doing thus far:

As you know, I am an IMLS Fellow, and I was placed at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama. As a recap, the Alabama Department of Archives and History is the nation’s oldest state repository and archive, beating the Mississippi Department of Archives and History by one year. The mission statement of this repository is to collect, protect and preserve the history of all Alabamians.  This repository has extensive collections of Civil War related materials, newspapers published in Alabama (the majority of which is on microfilm), a broad digital collection, military papers, etc. The great thing is a lot of it is online! Check out the link here: http://www.archives.alabama.gov/ .

While I have been here I have cataloged about sixteen records, which are available online, and they span different materials. I have worked with slave bills of sales, civil rights ephemera, plantation records, White Citizens papers and pamphlets, judicial papers and organizational papers, private collections… just to name a few! Every collection that I have cataloged taught me something new about the history of the state, the citizens who shaped it, and the preservation needs for the collections.

Of all of the collections that I have worked with thus far, the following two have stood out the most:

The William Stanley Pace collection: William Stanley Pace was a local member of the White Citizen’s council, which was a national white  segregationist organization,  in Selma, Alabama. In its doctrine, this organization was in favor of the preservation of segregation and separation of the races, but rejected the techniques employed by supremacist organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, this organization turned to literature and voting to maintain the status quo in the South.  There are two very interesting things about this collection; the almost complete set of rhetoric pamphlets and the fact that the family held on and saw the importance in donating the papers to the state archive. While ideas that were popularized within this organization were commonplace during the early and mid 20th century, over time they fell out of favor and were shunned by the majority and the powers at be, and people tended to hide their affiliation to such groups. From a preservation standpoint, I had to think carefully about how the information could be used and the probability of the information being stolen from the repository, which dictates the kinds of restrictions on the collection. In the end, we decided to copy the pamphlets so we could keep the originals safe and still allow access to the information.

Photo from the Charles Dunn Family Collection from the Alabama Department of History and archives

The Charles Dunn Family Collection: This is a very exciting collection to me because it  documents the Black middle and upper-middle class in Montgomery, Alabama! Mr. Dunn was a graduate from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and he coached at Alabama State University well into the mid-late 20th century. In this collection, there are different types of materials, including photographs  that  provide a glimpse into the life of a community that gets very little attention (in my opinion). Outside of moving things into book boxes and setting things aside to be scanned, this was a very easy collection to catalog, but the information it provides is immeasurable!!!

In addition to my cataloging adventures here at the archives, I have also been helping with the public programs hosted by the Archives, called ArchiTreats, presented at the Society of Alabama Archivists (SALA) on the benefits and purpose of oral history and oral history records in archives, participated in the Alabama Historical Association’s Fall pilgrimage to  Tuskegee and became an Archival Training Collaborative (ATC) trainer (which included two training sessions in Jackson, Mississippi. I am currently working on three public programs, one utilizing the Peppler/ Southern Courier collection, one on photo preservation, and a workshop on exhibit design, and I will keep every one posted on the progress of those programs!

Until next time!!!!

Cheylon Woods

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Comments on: "Hello from Alabama!!!!" (7)

  1. Cheylon,

    Sounds like you’re working on some very exciting projects! I was curious about when the family donated the William Stanley Pace papers to the archives. Was it when those ideas were still en vogue, as you discussed? Or was it later, when people became more embarrassed to have family members with those types of affiliations? How does the Pace family deal with this part of their history? I think you raise a very important point that papers of supremacy and hate groups often don’t make it to the archives because of feelings of shame. Without that type of evidence, it then becomes more difficult for racially oppressed and other marginalized groups to demonstrate what they were fighting against.

    • These papers were donated in the 90’s, which is why it was so exciting! I don’t know how the family felt about this part of their history, but this is a very common part of a lot of people’s family history.

      I agree with all of your points, but I constantly remind people not to look through history through today’s eyes if you are trying to understand why things happened the way they did. Let’s take a moment to look at the social culture of the era we are talking about. During the early to mid twentieth century there was a lot of drastic, drastic social change; and anytime there is such change people grasp on to whatever makes them most comfortable. In the United States and in the South especially, the one thing people held on to the most was cultural identity and where it placed them in society. Everyone knows about the White V. Colored issues (and by colored I mean all people not distinctively White, which included a lot of Europeans as well) but there was also gender and religious battles going on at the same time. After years and years of dealing with things that were beyond their control, like a failing global economy, drought, flood, over stripping of land (which I guess was really within their control when you think about it) I am sure that there appeared to be no real truths anymore, except that Black and White people were “different.” this kind of different was something that was so opposite, it seemed impossible for the two to work together equally. I mean, you had one group who felt like they had this “obligation to protect and care for an inferior race” and another group who did not want nor felt like they really needed their “protection.” As we all know, this in itself led to conflict, hatred, and distrust among both groups (and understandably so). So, with that kind of ideology, which had been “scientifically” proven, it makes sense why there was such an uproar at, and fight for, the idea of civil rights for African Americans during the mid twentieth century. While there were those (like the Klan) who wanted to continue to oppress African Americans, there were those who truly did not see the social structure as oppressive at that time. From their standpoint, they and their families were always “fair” to African Americans, and their plight in life was as good as it could be, so they should be happy with it. I personally feel that for those who are oppressed now to overcome they first have to understand what they are really fighting against. Not just the “they don’t like me and don’t want me to have what they have” but really understand why their opposition has taken the stand that it has. If you can’t understand your “enemy” (for lack of a better word) how can you ever expect to defeat them?

      As I said in my post, the White Citizens’ Council was not the Klan; it was the more political segregationist organization (meaning they fully utilized voting to their advantage, like the NAACP). I cannot speculate on the personal actions of any of the former members of this organization, but I can discuss what the documents prove. The White Citizens’ Council used the same kind of voting tactics as the NAACP and the Black Panther Party; they developed dummy ballots to encourage people how to vote and handed out pamphlets and newsletters as well. That was one of the main ways to politic during this era, especially in rural areas.

      Thanks for your comment and I look forward to your discussion!

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